6 Strategies To Help Nonprofits Pivot Through The Crisis

By: Amy M. Pieper, CTFA, Senior Vice President, Director Nonprofit Services
October 28, 2020

From small towns to large cities, the spread of the pandemic in the U.S. swiftly depleted available budgeted resources and personnel on many fronts.

Americans of all ages, from all economic backgrounds, are in danger of not being able to access and receive the community services they depend on and need to help them survive. Not only are they losing their livelihoods and facing evictions, a growing number of individuals and families are desperately trying to find sources to help them with employment, meals, housing, health care, and child care.

Nonprofits that help those in need are struggling too. Because of the pandemic, in-person fundraising events have been cancelled, cutting off an important revenue stream for their organizations. They fear having to reduce staff or shut their doors during this crucial time when community demand is at its peak.

For nonprofits, the realities are stark. Each day brings new and different challenges—and there are fewer dollars to go around than yesterday, but nonprofits are working hard to turn that around.

6 Strategies


On one point we can all agree: Our playbooks have to change. COVID-19 did not land on doorsteps in our communities with an instruction manual. We’re on our own—and flexibility is key for getting through each day and on to the next. Here are some suggestions for nonprofits regarding ways to maximize resources:

EXAMINE YOUR COST STRUCTURE. Start by taking a look at your cost structure for efficiencies as a creative way to maximize contributions. There may not be more dollars to give, but perhaps a shift in priorities will put more dollars on the table. Some nonprofits have pulled back or cut some programs in order to focus on COVID-19 relief efforts. Consider reaching out to shared-service providers for opportunities to pool resources.

COLLABORATE WITH SIMILAR NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS. Historically, each nonprofit is so focused on its own work and mission that it doesn’t have time to think about what else is out there. Collaboration doesn’t always come easy because of the long-standing assumption that nonprofits compete against each other for scarce dollars.

However, because of the rush and urgent need for products and services during the pandemic, opportunities for
nonprofits to partner or collaborate with similar organizations could reduce costs and even improve offerings. If your mission statements are fairly aligned, and the organizations don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” to meet a
particular need, a joint effort is a good work-around solution.

“It’s fine to talk with your supporters about how you’re part of the broader picture, no matter your mission,” says
Larry Levin, President and CEO of STL Nonprofit News. “In fact, it’s essential to do so. You must let people know
that we’re in this together.”²

BE AGILE WHEN CREATING NEW PRODUCTS OR SERVICES. Some nonprofits have found themselves creating new
products or services during the pandemic. Using an agile framework (i.e., minimum viable product, customer
feedback, and bias toward action) will help organizations efficiently test and pivot when trying to respond to
end-client needs. Some good examples of new products and services that have come about during this difficult
time include:
■ TeleMedicine capabilities in health care facilities
■ Contactless food collection and distribution in food pantries
■ Supervised virtual learning pods offering students digital, on-screen interaction with teachers in the
■ Expanded food programs during the school year and summer months for low-income students and

Right now, it’s especially important to remember communication is key. Keep your stakeholders informed; constantly remind them you’re there to help. Information and communication go hand-in-hand on both sides of the fence.

PROVIDE EASY-TO-READ COMMUNICATIONS. No one has the luxury of time to create new informational materials
for each request. Everyone is struggling to stretch resources and make things happen as quickly as possible.
Create a one-page overview of your organization that not only gives a total picture of your mission and current
needs, but also helps funders find a common ground for engagement—simply put, be specific and get down to
the “nitty gritty.” Funders are inundated with generic communications, so being specific will help you stand out.

DON’T IGNORE YOUR CURRENT FUNDERS. While it’s a difficult conversation to have, funders that have already made
an investment in your organization might double-down and give you more money to sustain your efforts. Don’t
assume they can’t help.

Give donors as much information as you can to help them understand the need and evaluate the situation.
Communicate major changes in your organization and give them the opportunity to help before something
drastic happens, such as laying off staff. While it’s difficult to go back and ask for more money, often donors are
more benevolent during times of crisis. Give them the opportunity to shift priorities and put additional dollars
on the table.

LOOK AT RESTRICTED GIFTS ON YOUR BOOKS. Take a look at the restricted gifts you already have on your books. It’s
possible the donor would be willing to lift the restriction or modify it so you can access the funds for an
immediate need. Have a conversation to explore the possibilities. While a restricted gift must be used for the
purpose specified by the donor, a donor can update the donation instructions to allow for monies to be allocated
for a different purpose. The donor may be amenable to your request and you will have maintained a good

Contact your Commerce Trust Institutional Advisor—or complete the form to find an experienced
advisor—for more information regarding nonprofit strategies and to discuss your organization’s specific needs.

¹ Source: “Community Foundations Nationwide Launch Coronavirus Relief Efforts,” https://www.
commfoundations.com/blog/2020/3/11/community-foundations-nationwide-launch-efforts-to-help-communities-affected-by-the-coronavirusCommunity Foundations Public Awareness Initiative, . Updated September 3. 2020.

² Source: Larry Levin, “Yes But…Bridging the Fundraising Issues in Time of COVID,” STL Nonprofit News, April 24, 2020, https://stlnonprofitnews.

The opinions and other information in the commentary are provided as of October 28, 2020. This summary is intended to provide general information only, and may be of value to the reader and audience.

This material is not a recommendation of any particular investment or insurance strategy, is not based on any particular financial situation or need, and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified tax advisor or investment professional. While Commerce may provide information or express opinions from time to time, such information or opinions are subject to change, are not offered as professional tax, insurance or legal advice, and may not be relied on as such.

Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Commerce Trust is a division of Commerce Bank.


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amy pieper
Amy Pieper, CTFA Senior Vice President, Director of Nonprofit Services Commerce Trust
Amy is the director of nonprofit services for Commerce Trust, and she is located in Kansas City. She and her team are responsible for delivering holistic financial and advisory services that are specific to the unique needs of nonprofit agencies across Commerce Trust’s eight state geographic footprint.

Amy and her team focus on understanding the unique opportunities and challenges that each nonprofit may face and then providing resources to help them meet their objectives and grow in service to the community. Prior to joining Commerce Trust in 2014, Amy acquired more than 20 years of industry experience.

Amy earned her Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Missouri and is a graduate of the Cannon Personal Trust School. Amy holds the designation of Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. She currently serves as trustee and secretary for the Watkins Mill Association, is a board member of Support Kansas City. Amy formerly served on the board of the American Heart Association, Liberty Hospital Foundation Regional Advisory Council, the planned giving committee of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative care, the finance committee at Church of the Annunciation and is a past-president of the Kansas City Chapter of Corporate Fiduciaries.

Amy is married to Dennis, a middle school social studies teacher and her husband of 25 years. They have two children, Sydney and Preston. In their spare time, they enjoy traveling (especially anywhere they can soak up history), attending Mizzou Football games in the fall, and staying involved with their parish.